Surprise ions

A high-flying satellite reveals a crowd of charged particles in the magnetosphere

By Stephen Ornes, 22:53 PM February 21, 2012




Earth’s magnetic field does more than tell compasses which way to point. Stretching thousands of miles into space, it also buffers our planet from the solar wind, an energetic stream of particles from the sun. Strong bursts of solar wind can change the shape of this protective shield, called the magnetosphere, and particle collisions within the region can cause the beautiful, shifting light shows in the sky known as auroras.


Scientists have known for about a hundred years that the magnetos...

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